Engine tests have begun on the B-21 Raider, the Air Force stealth bomber slated for first flight later this year.
The engine runs are part of B-21 ground tests at planemaker Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, California. Three more photos of the secretive plane were released on Wednesday, adding to the handful released at the aircraft’s rollout last December.
Less than a week passed between fueling the B-21 for the first time to starting its engines, said William Bailey, who leads the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office.
” It took us less than 5 days to go from fueling the B-2 for the first time, until we were able to start its engines. Bailey, speaking at the Air & Space Forces Association annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference, said that in most cases, this would take weeks, if not longer.
The software team has all the code it needs for the first flight, and the program is now waiting on the hardware to catch up before the first flight can happen.
“It’s not fun to watch engineers smack talk, but between the software guys and the hardware guys, they’re saying. Please hurry up! We’re done’,” Bailey said.
The first B-21, “for all intents and purposes” is a “production jet,” said Tom Jones, president of Northrop’s Aeronautics Systems. Jones stated that treating the first jet test like production aircraft will pay dividends because the company can gain valuable experience. “This in turn is going to result in a better transition into production,” Jones added.
Asked about final hurdles before its first flight, Jones told Defense One the company is now in the final stages, “as we need to be if we’re going to get that first flight in by the end of this year.”
That’s still the Air Force’s plan, even if Secretary Frank Kendall expressed some doubts in March. On Monday, Kendall told reporters at the conference that he’s “still hopeful” it will fly this year.
“We are preparing for the first flight. All of them must happen, and developing new programs is never without risk. Something can surprise you,” the secretary said.
The Air Force envisions B-21s operating with collaborative combat aircraft, or CCAs, future drones that will fly alongside manned fighters. Kendall said CCAs could fly ahead of B-21s and provide defensive capabilities.
The stealth bomber will be “part of a family of systems,” Jones said, and the program’s “interconnectedness” is what makes it a sixth-generation platform.
“In order to build capability, this system has a highly open architecture. It’s got a very modern, agile based software architecture, really taking a lot of the best practices out of commercial industry, and defense firms,” Jones said.
The post B-21 starts engine tests as bomber preps for first flight appeared first on Defense One.